The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

14 June 2005

Why I Write About Liberal Talk Radio

Catching Fire?

Washington Post's Kurtz Adds To Liberal Talk Hype

Recently I've been asked by several people, including in a national radio interview last night, why I spend so much time attacking liberal talk radio.

Let me make it clear: if it can succeed on its own, then I have no dispute. After all, who can argue with success?

If there's an audience for it, far be it for me to fight the tide.

Countering the dishonesty, that's what motivates the Radio Equalizer. For over a year now, we've been subjected to slanted reports, puff pieces and softball interviews of Air America's air staffers, without any attempt at balance.

Liberal talk host Stephanie Miller

This mainstream media-endorsed spin campaign has continued unabated, even without ratings growth. Worse, in the radio industry we've been forced to endure even sleazier pro-Air America coverage in certain broadcast trades, likely due to the incredible amount of advertising purchased by liberal radio syndication outfits.

Conservatives were caught off guard, without proper knowledge of the broadcast industry, starting to believe liberal talk radio was actually working.

I began to notice, last year, that many on the right seemed increasingly baffled as to how they should discuss, if at all, Air America's presence.

With the help of major conservative writers such as Michelle Malkin, plus dozens of bloggers and news/opinion sites such as WorldNetDaily and Orbusmax, a surprising number of daily newspapers (in North Carolina, Chicago, L.A. and elsewhere) and trade publications (All Access, RadioDailyNews), we began to document liberal talk's troubles.

What makes this fight worth continuing? The need to counter pieces such as this one, by Howard Kurtz (reg. required) in the Washington Post.

An eagle-eyed Malkin noticed right away what was wrong: it suggests liberal talk's bright future is upon us, despite the reality of a poor ratings performance.

To the Radio Equalizer, it's especially sinister, because it appears to provide a balanced performance account of Stephanie Miller and other lib talkers, then fails to back up claims she is "catching fire" with listeners.

Kurtz initially mentions spotty performance, leading one to wonder if he will be providing a fair account of its showing, then gets sucked into the idea that liberal talk radio has a promising future, only now beginning to materialize.

Let's look at a few excerpts, followed by my responses:

Miller's presence here at a weekend radio conference sponsored by Talkers magazine -- which gave Air America's Al Franken its Freedom of Speech award -- suggests that left-wing hosts are gaining a foothold in a conservative-dominated field. Eight months after launching a show in a handful of towns such as Columbus and Anchorage, the former standup comic is on in 30 cities, including such major markets as Boston, Washington (on WRC-AM), and Los Angeles, where she manages to be funny at 6 a.m.

How did their presence at the convention suggest anything, other than their presence? What did Franken do to deserve a freedom of speech award? When did he stand up for free expression?

Why doesn't Kurtz mention that 30 cities, after a year on the air, is small potatoes for talk radio? Or that the two liberal Boston stations are generating no ratings?

Air America, which was nearly grounded by financial woes after its takeoff last year, is on in 61 cities, although registering scant ratings in some of them. And radio giant Clear Channel is flipping some of its stations to liberal talk.

As recently as 2000, Miller hosted a popular show on L.A.'s KABC but had trouble getting syndicated, and then, she says, "I was fired for being too liberal." (She also says the station didn't like the "racy content" of her show, where she sometimes referred to male callers as "love puppet" and "stud monkey.") There was, she concluded, no place for liberals in a talk radio world dominated by Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.

Since when is anyone in talk radio fired for being liberal? Besides the racy content issue, what were the real reasons?

At least Kurtz mentions "scant ratings", but I'm afraid it's just to get us to let our guards down about what's to come.

Miller isn't delicate when it comes to language. She told listeners last week that the argument by Hannity and Bill O'Reilly that "we're the only ones who support the troops" is "making me projectile-vomit." She gloats that "the Republicans have their panties in a twist" over this or that issue. She challenges the veracity of some conservatives with a jingle called "lying sack of crap."

Gee, Howard, could you challenge her on why she can't seem to inject a bit more intellect into her arguments? Vomit, crap, panties? That's primary school-level rhetoric.

Hannity, who once gave her a well-publicized hug, says he's never heard her show. "I've never seen any medium get more attention than liberal talk radio with absolutely no benefit," he says. "There's been more written about liberal talk radio than I've had in my entire career, and I began in 1987."

Again, we get tricked into thinking we're reading a fair piece, with Hannity's spot-on statement.

Much of that attention has been lavished on Air America, which says it is running ahead of projections, with an average of 222,000 people listening at any one time (compared to the roughly 4.4 million that Limbaugh averages at any one time on 600 stations). Franken, who spent part of his acceptance speech ripping O'Reilly, says the industry is no longer laughing at liberal radio. Hannity's liberal co-host, Alan Colmes (who joked at the conference that there are some liberals at Fox -- on the janitorial staff) is now heard on 70 stations.

From where are they getting this 222,000 quarter-hour estimate? It's hard to fathom a number that high, considering the ratings we've seen.

As for Colmes, many of his stations are otherwise-conservative outlets, who run him as part of a FOX News branding image.

Miller's emergence as a wisecracking liberal crusader carries a touch of irony, since her father was the late Buffalo-area congressman William Miller, Barry Goldwater's running mate in his landslide loss in 1964. Stephanie, who was 3 at the time, says her dad wouldn't recognize today's more conservative GOP, but sometime after voting for Ronald Reagan, she rejected the "extra-crispy bucket of Republican upbringing" served by her parents.

Miller overplays this tired tale in every media interview. Give it a rest, Steph.

But only since Jones Radio began distributing Miller's program last fall has she seemed to catch fire. With bits and impressions from her "voice guy" Jim Ward, Miller ridicules the administration -- from "Baghdad Bush" to John Bolton's mustache -- with undisguised glee. Miller generally has no guests, though the likes of Howard Dean and Barbara Boxer have made brief appearances.

How has she caught fire? With 30 tiny stations? Kurtz has a chance to back this up with ratings performance, or other industry yardsticks, but doesn't. It just dangles there, unverified.

Until we see more honesty in this type of reporting, the mission continues. Thanks for your participation in this effort, we have much more work ahead, I'm afraid.


  • KABC fired Miller due to poor ratings, I believe. Her show staggered on a couple months with the odd situation of having her flagship station no longer carrying her, though she was still on in Boston (WRKO) and one or two other cities. Finally ABC pulled the plug completely.

    From R.Waggoner, March of 2000:
    " Stephanie Miller is out, Mr. KABC is in as KABC (790 AM) makes a long-overdue change in its evening lineup, attempting to spread Mr. KABC's good ratings to more than just one hour per day.

    "Miller came to KABC more than 2 years ago after a brief stint at sister station KTZN ("The Zone," 710 AM) When the Zone went under, management brought her over to KABC. Previously, Miller had been on competitor KFI (640 AM), but left that station in order to launch a television program called The Stephanie Miller Show. After it flopped, she returned to radio on KTZN.

    "For a time on KFI, Miller's program was somewhat fresh and rather funny. On KABC, her program devolved to become a stale rehash of bitter jokes and bad sound effects. Her show ceased to be creative long before it debuted on KABC: the last two years only made it worse.

    "Interestingly, it appears that, while her show will not be heard on KABC, she will still broadcast from KABC's studios under a syndication deal she has with ABC Radio. Her program can be heard on over twenty stations across the country. Just not here... And while Miller has hinted that her liberal politics played a part in her show's cancellation, Mr. KABC told me, "Her show was canceled because the station believes that I am a better fit and that my ratings are on the rise. Her politics played NO factor in her demise. I'm as liberal as I have always been and know that if Leon Trotsky could get a five share at night, KABC would replace me with him." (raccoonradio/Bob Nelson)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 14 June, 2005 03:15  

  • In his weekly chat, he was asked whether AAR's hype was merited given the poor performance. He said it wasn't, which was odd considering that very morning he himself had participated in the hype machine.

    By Anonymous SaveFarris, at 14 June, 2005 07:46  

  • Countering the dishonesty, that's what motivates the Radio Equalizer. For over a year now, we've been subjected to slanted reports, puff pieces and softball interviews of Air America's air staffers, without any attempt at balance.

    Are you serious? Over the past year, we've been swamped with pieces that didn't even know that AAR changed their business model after six weeks.

    Over the last 15 years, we've been swamped with stories about Rush Limbaugh and conservative talkers, and their success, without any balance.

    I also suggest you look at your balance. For someone who professes to follow the industry, you seem pretty myoptic in your blogs.

    This mainstream media-endorsed spin campaign has continued unabated, even without ratings growth.

    And their success in such a short period of time tells you what? Look at Limbaugh and Hannity. It took them more than 10 years to achieve a level of success. Yet, you expect Air America to be competitive in a year. Who's spinning?

    How did their presence at the convention suggest anything, other than their presence?

    The fact that they were featured speakers, based on their novelty.

    What did Franken do to deserve a freedom of speech award? When did he stand up for free expression?

    What did Rush Limbaugh do when he won last years, Freedom of Speech award? How about past winner G. Gordon Liddy? Trying to subvert the constitution?

    Since when is anyone in talk radio fired for being liberal?

    Lets start with Mike Malloy and Nancy Skinner's firing from WLS, in Chicago, in spite of being number two in their time slot. It's called station branding. WLS didn't want a liberal dissing the conservatives who came on before them. If you look at some of the early pieces from AAR, that's exactly what they wanted to counter.

    Again, we get tricked into thinking we're reading a fair piece, with Hannity's spot-on statement.

    The universe doesn't revolve around Hannity. If he said that there was more coverage of liberal talk radio than the entire genre of right wing talk radio, he'd have a point. It would be a lie, but he'd have a point.

    From where are they getting this 222,000 quarter-hour estimate?

    Maybe if you subscribed to Arbitron, and got their over-nights and other stats, rather than relying on the freebie 12+, all day ratings, you'd have an answer.

    How has she caught fire? With 30 tiny stations?

    Tiny is an inaccurate adjective. The story clearly states that she's on air in many large markets.

    By Anonymous Dick Tuck, at 14 June, 2005 09:08  

  • Brian

    It would be interesting to see ratings from Rush after his first 2 or 3 years. Even without the MSM fawning all over him I bet he still beat AAR.

    By Blogger RUMPLEMINTZ, at 14 June, 2005 10:17  

  • Gee, Dick, I wonder if Hannity or Rush had to PURCHASE airtime from stations to get started. Answer: No.

    Its been widely reported that the flagship station in New York (WLIB) as nearly identical ratings now, than they did when they were an all-Jamaican station. In spite of all the election coverage of 2004...ErrAmerika lands like a dead cat at the bottom of the ratings.

    220,000 listeners on a quarter hour? Perhaps. Doubtful, but I won;t argue it. Considering the markets ErrAmerika is on....Boston, New York, Chicago, LA, Seattle....that's tens of MILLIONS of potential listeners.

    Look at the ratings in each market and you can find the ErrAmerika affiliate at the bottom, even in uber-liberal markets like New York and Boston.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 14 June, 2005 13:10  

  • Gee, Dick, I wonder if Hannity or Rush had to PURCHASE airtime from stations to get started. Answer: No.

    Rush got his first talk spot after his gay (friend) gave it to him, when another host bailed.

    Air America's first business model was to buy or lease stations. That model lasted six weeks. They do a syndication model, just like everyone else.

    How about the FOX talent? Are they syndicated? Or do they buy and lease stations?

    Please feel free to provide any facts, once you get yourself a clue.

    By Anonymous Dick Tuck, at 14 June, 2005 14:10  

  • The only clue you need is that ErrAmerika is a disaster. Thanks for ignoring the rest of the post...particluarly those amazing number that show New York liberals prefer Jamaican music to listening to Franken-fraud and his band of losers.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 14 June, 2005 14:35  

  • In case you missed them: WLIB/New York ratings from R&R:

    Spring 04 1.3
    Summer 04 1.4
    Fall 04 1.2
    Winter 04 1.2
    Spring 05 Part 1 1.2

    Wow...what a runaway success! In case you didn't notice, that is a ratings DECLINE. In NEW YORK.

    Yep, ErrAmerika sure is a BIG success.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 14 June, 2005 14:42  

  • Wow...what a runaway success! In case you didn't notice, that is a ratings DECLINE. In NEW YORK

    Explain the right wing stoner's fall on WABC?

    3.9 4.1 4.5 3.5 3.4

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 14 June, 2005 15:41  

  • Liberals just have no class. If you just admitted that Air America hasn't lived up to expectations, but changes have been made and hopefuly they'll reap rewards, I could respect that. But liberals have to put a silk hat on a pig and insult everyone's intelligence, mainly because they think they're smarter than everyone.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 14 June, 2005 15:44  

  • Explain the right wing stoner's fall on WABC?

    Sure. Much of that fall-off is natural, as the election season ended. If you look at other markets, that pretty much happens for most talk format stations.

    Of course, the whole point here is that ErrAmerika never HAD an increase, and they are as flat as a pancake or going down. More importantly, if listeners were exiting from WABC for WLIB...wouldn't there be a SURGE? Nope. Election's over and people want music, but the ratings CLEARLY show they do NOT want ErrAmerika.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 14 June, 2005 15:57  

  • Hmmmm, yet more nonsensical rantings about radio from people who claim to have some knowledge of the industry and programming in particular. Dick Tuck makes 2 assertions that demonstrate a complete and utter lack of knowledge, experience or common sense with regard to commercial radio broadcasting. I suspect he's just another AAR supporter who is so liberal, so open minded that his brain fell out years ago. Amongst the many ridiculous and outright false points he makes, I will address 2 that are absolutely laughable!
    Dick seems to think Malloy and others were fired from WLS for being liberal. HaHaHa. After 25 years in radio, the most frequent reason air talent is replaced is poor ratings and revenue. If Malloy had been anywhere near WLS and market expectations, he would without a doubt still be there. Station Branding...You clearly dont know the meaning of the word and every radio professional who reads your post knows that.
    Second, Dick telling Brian to subscribe to Arbitron for "over-nights"? Dick...Arbitron does not, nor have they ever offered dailies for radio. Like Brian, I too have access to additional Arbitron data by daypart-demographic and qualitive. While copyright and contractual agreements with Arbitron prohibit our qouting that data, I can assure you, AAR is a miserable failure no matter what time, what age, sex or air talent. the on air line up and so-called program director at AAR couldn't program a police scanner during the height of a crime wave and the ratings prove it!

    By Anonymous PeakLimiter, at 14 June, 2005 16:38  

  • I do have some background in the business and can tell you that, in the days when radio stations mixed liberal and conservative hosts, liberal hosts received more scrutiny and criticism from program directors, and were not judged by the same yardstick of ratings, notwithstanding what the above poster said. "All these people are complaining about you... I want a (ratings) book full of friends." Liberals would complain about conservative hosts, but when confronted with a liberal on "their" radio station, righties would threaten to nuke the place.
    I saw one liberal host leave a station because she couldn't take the threats, and another practically had to have a police guard to get out of the building after his shift.

    Talk PDs were stumbling in the dark before 1988, and when Rush came along and had some success, they, like all other media types, became copycats. Fill the schedule with Rush clones. The "Billary"-host era. Halfwits screaming about "Dumbocrats" in the days before internet-fed talking points.
    It was really ugly and a bad representation of the conservative point of view. But it was consistent, and it held onto those dittoheads for a quarter hour or two more each day. And so it stayed.

    It is no surprise that WLS ran off Mike Malloy despite his good numbers. They also ran off Jay Marvin and Bob Lassiter, two other successful liberal hosts. Their former general manager (Tom Tradup) is now running news-talk stations for Salem Communications.
    Salem would sooner nuke their stations than put on Air America. It would lead one to suspect that Tradup had it in for lefties all along.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 14 June, 2005 18:21  

  • I find it interesting that you spend a post on Al Franken appearance at some Talker Show and slam Ms Miller here, but don’t say one word on the SLEAZY way Bill O’Reilly did a CREATIVE CUT and EDIT on what Joe Biden said on Meet The Press in regard to Guantánamo.

    Not only sleazy but DISHONEST and pure BS. O’Reilly had the balls to take what Biden said (and O’Reilly cut out) as his own original thought (something he’s never had)..

    Why don’t you mention that as long as your being so FAIR and BALANCED.

    Help me I’m choking…

    You can check it out here at on the June 13 post.

    By Anonymous mickh, at 14 June, 2005 18:30  

  • RUMPLEMINTZ asked how Rush did in his first three years of syndication.

    Paul Colford's 1993 unauthorized biography details much of the growth. By May 1991, Rush was on 350 stations with 1.8 million listeners each quarter hour which was an 80% gain from 1989. (page 131)

    BTW, Stephanie Miller is not the only liberal host that lost a gig in LA and then erroneously whined about the politics. Tom Leykis was bounced from KFI in 1992 or 1993.

    By Anonymous ira, at 14 June, 2005 19:31  

  • Baaaaaaahhhh, I taking my radio and going home. Trying to drink liberal whine is more than I can modulate.
    There are many successful radio stations on the air. Most of them I won't or don't listen to for a variety of reason...Mostly can't stand the music or the "shock" style jock. Sadly, Air America's staff frequently borders on the shock talk disk jockey mentality. It's NOT funny so, how could you take it seriously. Professionalism is a tough row to hoe. There aren't that many pro's out there.

    By Anonymous Duane, at 14 June, 2005 20:18  

  • I think liberal radio would do fine, if they'd be more civil.

    And please - I think by now, we know that 99% of America is behind the troops. Sure, some don't support Iraq - but hey, I know somebody who's strongly anti-Iraq-war but still supports the military and has a Marines poster in his bedroom.

    By Blogger Josef, at 14 June, 2005 21:10  

  • Ira

    So, after 2 or 3 years Rush had almost 2 million listeners on 350 stations with absolutely no fanfare. While AAR after 2 years and months and months of drooling propaganda from the MSM have a tiny fraction of that.

    By Blogger RUMPLEMINTZ, at 14 June, 2005 23:10  

  • So, after 2 or 3 years Rush had almost 2 million listeners on 350 stations with absolutely no fanfare. While AAR after 2 years and months and months of drooling propaganda from the MSM have a tiny fraction of that.

    Try after 10 years. Rush started his stint in Sacramento before going national. Oh, and try a little math. AAR has only been on air 1 year and 2 months.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 15 June, 2005 00:02  

  • Peak Limiter, thanks, I've often been asked why I don't publish more specific ratings breakdowns here, the answer is simple: legally, we can't, nor can anyone else, really.

    Some daily newspapers, in New York and Chicago, somehow get away with running more than everyone else and we can certainly link to those stories.

    Otherwise, these broad measurements are what we have to work with.

    That being said, Air America has every right to supply to us, if they wish, real Arbitron data that refutes our points.

    Since they pay for the data, they have the ability to crow about it in advertising or press releases, if they want. I've yet to see them do that.

    Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn has twice asked them to counter my reporting, if they can. As far as I know, they never responded to his requests.

    By Blogger Brian Maloney, at 15 June, 2005 01:12  

  • Political talk radio sucks. All of it. Left wing, right wing or middle of the bird. It's all about self-important blowhards holding court on issues that no one in the real world gives a wet slap about, validating the fears and prejudices of a handful of clueless political talk geeks who should really get out more.
    You know, the kind of deep thinkers who actually someone like Shelly Malkin is "eagle-eyed."

    By Blogger Jim Walsh, at 15 June, 2005 03:30  

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